Maria Yudina

9.09.1899 - 19.11.1970
Voice/Instrument: Pianoforte


Maria (Mariya) Veniaminovna Yudina (September 9 [O.S. August 28], 1899 – November 19, 1970) was an influential Soviet pianist.

Yudina was born to a Jewish family in Nevel, Russia. She studied at the Petrograd Conservatory under Anna Yesipova and Leonid Vladimirovich Nikolayev. She also briefly studied privately with Felix Blumenfeld. Her classmates included Dmitri Shostakovich and Vladimir Sofronitsky. Though primarily known for her interpretations of Bach and Beethoven, she was a keen champion of contemporary composers including works of her good friend Shostakovich. Yudina was also a highly regarded champion of J. S. Bach's music. Some have claimed that Yudina's way of playing Bach foreshadows the style of Glenn Gould.

Yudina was one of the few Soviet artists who openly opposed the Communist regime, resulting in her being banned from teaching or performing on stage on several occasions. She can also be considered one of the great Christian thinkers of Russia in the twentieth century (among her friends was the philosopher Pavel Florensky).

After her graduation from the Petrograd Conservatory, Yudina was invited to teach there, which she did until 1930, when she was thrown out of the institution because of her religious convictions and vocal criticism of the Soviet leadership. After being unemployed and homeless for a couple of years, Yudina was invited to teach the graduate piano course at the Tbilisi State Conservatory (1932–1933). In 1936, upon Heinrich Neuhaus's suggestion, Maria Yudina joined the piano faculty of the Moscow Conservatory, where she taught until 1951. In 1944-1960, Yudina taught chamber ensemble and vocal class at the Gnessins Institute (now Gnessin Russian Academy of Music). In 1960, Maria Yudina was thrown out of the Gnessins Institute because of her religious attitudes and her advocation of modern Western music. She continued to perform in public, but her recitals were forbidden to be recorded. After an incident during one of her recitals in Leningrad, when she read Boris Pasternak's poetry from the stage as encore, Yudina was banned from performing for five years. In 1966, when the ban was lifted, Maria Yudina gave a cycle of lectures on Romanticism at the Moscow Conservatory.

Yudina has the distinction of being Joseph Stalin's favorite pianist. One night, Stalin heard a performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 on the radio performed by Yudina and asked for a copy. It was a live broadcast so officials woke up Yudina, drove her to a recording studio where a small orchestra had quickly been assembled, and made her record the concerto in the middle of the night, a single copy was pressed from the matrix and then presented to Stalin (the matrix has survived and the recording has been available on CD). It is said that he broke out in tears after hearing only the first notes of Yudina's playing. Despite the recognition from Stalin the pianist remained an uncompromising critic of the Stalinist regime with unprecedented impunity. She was awarded the Stalin Prize and donated its monetary portion to the Orthodox Church for "perpetual prayers for Stalin's sins". She died in Moscow in 1970.

The art of Yudina represents a whole epoch in the Russian cultural history. Unlike other fellow musicians, Yudina always tried to go beyond her personal comfort zone, making friends and collaborating with famous writers, artists and architects.

Among her friends were Boris Pasternak (who did the first reading of his novel Doctor Zhivago at Yudina's apartment as early as February 1947), Osip Mandelstam, Mikhail Bakhtin, Pierre Suvchinsky, Dmitri Shostakovich, Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen and many others.

Thanks to efforts of Yudina's friends in Russia, particularly Anatoly Kuznetsov, Yudina's letters and writings were published in the late 90s-early 00s. There were several attempts to complete the set of Yudina's recordings. Most of her recordings released on LPs in Russia are hard to obtain. 

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